You’re working on an adaptation of Beachworld, what can you tell us about it?
Beachworld is one of Stephen King’s Dollar Babies, stories he grants students and emerging filmmakers film options to in order to “try their hands” at one of his works. He is my favorite author (Flannery O’Connor is a close second) and I grew up reading his books and loving scary stories and horror movies. Beachworld is a sci-fi/horror story that delves into the psyche of a woman named Shapiro who crash lands on a desolate planet of sand dunes, and whose companion Rand is going insane. The look of the film is retro 2001 A Space Odyssey meets surreal Burning Man. King fans will find that my adaptation is very different from King’s original. One obvious change is that my version has women and King’s does not. It’s so important to have representation on screen so I made some of the characters, including the lead, female and I’m really excited to cast their roles. The other big change is that I completely changed the ending. The original ended on much too happy a note for me, so I added some dark twists and more blood. You can never have too much in a horror film! Whether you’ve read the original or not, you’ll be in for a surprise.
Why this story specifically?
It’s definitely not the easiest story to shoot but living in LA, we’re just a few hours from the Imperial Sand Dunes which are the largest dunes in the state of California. I couldn’t pass up the amazing setting! Besides having the perfect location for this story, I was really drawn to the theme of isolation. I used to be in the Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer and know what it’s like to be in the middle of the ocean with no other vessels in sight or on radar. It’s a little scary even when you’re on a ship with 300 other people. There’s no quick rescue if something goes wrong. In all the stories I write, I love exploring the types of people we become when shit hits the fan. No matter who much we’ve trained or prepared, in emergencies some people step up and others shut down. I took this story and explored what it would be like for someone who is stranded with no rescue in sight. What type of person do they become faced with that situation?
You’ve mentioned to me that the crew will be 50% female on the project. We love this idea. Why was this important?
Women are 51% of the world’s population and yet sorely underrepresented both on screen and behind the camera in our industry. I’m a huge believer in the phrase “if you can see it you can be it” and for way too long, women have been relegated to the back seat while men take the wheel. It all started back in the late 1920’s when sound was introduced to films, and movies started becoming a legitimate money making industry. Hollywood went from a town full of female powerhouses like Francis Marian, Lois Weber, and June Mathis to the female filmmaking desert we see even today. That’s not to say the talent and experience isn’t out there. There’s so many amazing, talented women who are great at their jobs but not enough people give them a chance to show off their skills. I want my team to reflect the world we live in, inclusive of as many voices as possible because good ideas come from a diverse set of experiences. We’ve spent way too long living in a world where our voices and opinions are less important, and I want to do what I can as a story creator and job creator to push the scale towards a more equal future.
You were a nuclear engineer before you became a screenwriter, I have no question about it I just think that’s really friggin’ cool.
I got to yell things like “Scram the reactor!”
You won Screamfest LA’s Best Un-Produced Screenplay. How long after the transition from Engineer to Screenwriter did that happen? I imagine that must have been validation that you made the right choice?
It was a huge validation! I actually found out about my win while I was in New Zealand on my Honeymoon. I came out to LA right after the Navy wanting to stretch my creative side but not sure what I was going to be. I could never think outside the box in nuclear engineering which is why I wanted a change. I loved watching movies (especially horror) and finally recognized that it was a business and people made movies as a career. That had never really clicked for me as I headed into undergrad at MIT, but I made several short films there after hearing Eli Roth speak at a Hostel Q&A and him telling someone to just go out and do it, film school isn’t a necessity. So I took his advice and wrote my own scripts, wrangled friends to act, and shot some shorts!
Once I made it to LA, I spent two years working in development learning the business side of the industry before I started falling in love with screenwriting. I took a foundational screenwriting class for military veterans through the Writers Guild Foundation and decided to pursue a Masters to build my craft. I worked towards my MFA in a low-residency program via Stephens College and worked at a production company concurrently to keep learning the biz. My winning script U-666 was written during my final school year under the mentorship of writer/director Gus Krieger who taught me so much about writing horror. It was just over 4 years from my career 180 from nuclear engineer to screenwriter that I won at Screamfest. Now I can’t imagine myself doing anything else! That being said, I am still in the Navy Reserve and do Science and Engineering outreach as the Navy’s West Coast City Outreach Officer. I am also the Director of Grants for Veterans in Media and Entertainment. So while I consider myself first and foremost a screenwriter, I have a lot of things going on! I love directing when I can, seeing my vision through to the very end but screenwriting I can do anywhere, anytime as long as I have a pen and paper. The creative freedom is really freeing.
What can you tell us about the people on the crew for Beachworld?
I have such an amazing team! We are all huge Stephen King fans and so excited to bring his story to life. There are a lot of military veterans working on this, including our Producer Brian Campeau, and Executive Producers Karen Kraft and Rebecca Murga. They have decades of experience between the three of them from producing for Discovery (Karen) to shadowing in the Ryan Murphy HALF Foundation and Disney/ABC Directing program (Rebecca). Needless to say, I’m really thrilled to have their support! I met our visionary Cinematographer Gareth Taylor at a Film Independent mixer and we hit it off over our love for King. Lenny Vallone is another one of our producers at OneNinth and has been tremendous nailing down our budget. Our inventive production designer Kaeleigh Morrison just came off of Glow and Criminal Minds and is a whiz with social media too! My best friend Erin Feller is going to help capture all the crazy behind the scenes moments and unit stills, and my husband Jon Paris is a pro at problem solving, jumping in wherever he can help. We haven’t locked in cast yet but we have started talking with some amazing actors and will be posting our cast and crew updates on our Facebook page!
What advice can you give to other people who are thinking of getting started in screenwriting?
Try it out! Take a class or certificate program. If you are LA-based there are so many programs you can enroll in and if you are outside of LA, there is a wealth of resources online. Read books about screenwriting. I have two shelfs dedicated reference books on screenwriting and directing. I also have library cards with the LA, Burbank, and San Diego public library systems! I’m currently reading William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade. Not only is he one of the greatest screenwriters ever, he holds a special place in my heart because he wrote the screenplay for Stephen King’s Misery! It’s my favorite King adaptation. Read screenplays, watch movies, and write. William Faulkner gave the best writing advice when he said “Don’t be a writer, be writing.” I have that on a sticky above my desk.
We love what you’re planning for Beachworld and think it’s fantastic that you’re so keen on having so many women on your crew. What advice can you give to other women who want to make the leap to horror?
The horror community is really supportive, which I love. Make friends in person or through social media with women (and men!) working in horror and support their work. When you make the leap, remember that you can help create a more inclusive industry by how you write your characters or hire your crew. You have a lot of power! Wield it fiercely and unapologetically. And remember, no one knows anything and there’s no such thing as too much blood.